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Scientific News

FARA funds research progress

In this section, you will find the most recent FA research publications, many of which are funded by FARA, as well as information on upcoming conferences and symposiums. You can search for articles by date using the archive box in the right hand column. To locate FARA Funded or Supported Research, click the hyperlink in the right hand column. You may also search for specific content using key words or phrases in the search button at the top right of your screen. Please be sure to visit other key research sections of our website for information on FARA’s Grant Program and the Treatment Pipeline.

Healx launches partnership with Ataxia UK and FARA to find treatments for rare neurodegenerative condition

Ataxia UK is the leading charity in the United Kingdom for people affected by ataxia - an umbrella term for a group of neurological disorders that target the nervous system and affect balance, coordination and speech. FARA (Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance) is a non-profit organisation in the US, dedicated to supporting research into treatments and cures for Friedreich’s ataxia, the most common type of hereditary ataxia. In this partnership, Healx will combine its AI technology and deep pharmacological expertise with Ataxia UK and FARA’s unparalleled patient and scientific insight to drive novel treatments for Friedreich's ataxia from prediction to clinic.

Cambridge UK – 7 April 2021
– Healx, the AI-powered, patient-inspired technology company accelerating the discovery and development of rare disease treatments at scale, is excited to announce its latest patient group partnerships. Working in collaboration with Ataxia UK and FARA, Healx will leverage its state-of-the-art AI platform and drug discovery expertise to develop novel treatments for Friedreich’s ataxia – a rare neurodegenerative condition that causes issues with balance, speech and coordination.

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Quantitative assessment of Friedreich Ataxia via self-drinking activity

Effective monitoring of the progression of neurodegenerative conditions can be significantly improved by objective assessments. Clinical assessments of conditions such as Friedreich's Ataxia (FA), currently rely on subjective measures commonly practiced in clinics as well as the ability of the affected individual to perform conventional tests of the neurological examination. In this study, the authors propose an ataxia measuring device, in the form of a pressure canister capable of sensing certain kinetic and kinematic parameters of interest to quantify the impairment levels of participants particularly when engaged in an activity that is closely associated with daily living. In particular, the functional task of simulated drinking was utilized to capture characteristic features of disability manifestation in terms of diagnosis (separation of individuals with FA and controls) and severity assessment of individuals diagnosed with the debilitating condition of FA. Time and frequency domain analysis of these biomarkers enabled the classification of individuals with FA and control subjects to reach an accuracy of 98\% and a correlation level reaching 96\% with the clinical scores.

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Somatic CAG expansion in Huntington's disease is dependent on the MLH3 endonuclease domain, which can be excluded via splice redirection

Somatic expansion of the CAG repeat tract that causes Huntington's disease (HD) is thought to contribute to the rate of disease pathogenesis. Therefore, factors influencing repeat expansion are potential therapeutic targets. Genes in the DNA mismatch repair pathway are critical drivers of somatic expansion in HD mouse models. Here, the authors have tested, using genetic and pharmacological approaches, the role of the endonuclease domain of the mismatch repair protein MLH3 in somatic CAG expansion in HD mice and patient cells. A point mutation in the MLH3 endonuclease domain completely eliminated CAG expansion in the brain and peripheral tissues of a HD knock-in mouse model (HttQ111). To test whether the MLH3 endonuclease could be manipulated pharmacologically, the investigators delivered splice switching oligonucleotides in mice to redirect Mlh3 splicing to exclude the endonuclease domain. Splice redirection to an isoform lacking the endonuclease domain was associated with reduced CAG expansion. Finally, CAG expansion in HD patient-derived primary fibroblasts was also significantly reduced by redirecting MLH3 splicing to the endogenous endonuclease domain-lacking isoform. These data indicate the potential of targeting the MLH3 endonuclease domain to slow somatic CAG repeat expansion in HD, a therapeutic strategy that may be applicable across multiple repeat expansion disorders.

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Progression characteristics of the European Friedreich's Ataxia Consortium for Translational Studies (EFACTS): a 4-year cohort study

The European Friedreich's Ataxia Consortium for Translational Studies (EFACTS) investigates the natural history of Friedreich's ataxia. The aim of the consortium is to assess progression characteristics and to identify patient groups with differential progression rates based on longitudinal 4-year data to inform upcoming clinical trials in Friedreich's ataxia. EFACTS is a prospective, observational cohort study based on an ongoing and open-ended registry. Patients with genetically confirmed Friedreich's ataxia were seen annually at 11 clinical centers in seven European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK). Data from baseline to 4-year follow-up were included in the current analysis. Our primary endpoints were the Scale for the Assessment and Rating of Ataxia (SARA) and the activities of daily living (ADL). Linear mixed-effect models were used to analyze annual disease progression for the entire cohort and subgroups defined by age of onset and ambulatory abilities. Power calculations were done for potential trial designs. This study is registered with, NCT02069509. Between Sept 15, 2010, and Nov 20, 2018, of 914 individuals assessed for eligibility, 602 patients were included. Of these, 552 (92%) patients contributed data with at least one follow-up visit. Annual progression rate for SARA was 0·82 points (SE 0·05) in the overall cohort, and higher in patients who were ambulatory (1·12 [0·07]) than non-ambulatory (0·50 [0·07]). ADL worsened by 0·93 (SE 0·05) points per year in the entire cohort, with similar progression rates in patients who were ambulatory (0·94 [0·07]) and non-ambulatory (0·91 [0·08]). Although both SARA and ADL showed slightly greater worsening in patients with typical onset (symptom onset at ≤24 years) than those with late onset (symptom onset ≥25 years), differences in progression slopes were not significant. For a 2-year parallel-group trial, 230 (115 per group) patients would be required to detect a 50% reduction in SARA progression at 80% power: 118 (59 per group) if only individuals who are ambulatory are included. With ADL as the primary outcome, 190 (95 per group) patients with Friedreich's ataxia would be needed, and fewer patients would be required if only individuals with early-onset are included. These findings for stage-dependent progression rates have important implications for clinicians and researchers, as they provide reliable outcome measures to monitor disease progression, and enable tailored sample size calculation to guide upcoming clinical trial designs in Friedreich's ataxia.

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Pre-clinical left ventricular myocardial remodeling in patients with Friedreich's ataxia: A cardiac MRI study

Heart Failure (HF) is the most common cause of death in Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA). Myocardial fibrosis and myocardial hypertrophy are well-documented autopsy features among FRDA patients with HF. The aim of this study is to leverage the unique tissue characterization features of cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) for characterizing myocardial remodeling in patients with genetically confirmed FRDA without HF and preserved left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF > 55%). Twenty-seven FRDA's patients (age 27.6 ± 9.7 years, 15 women) and 10 healthy controls (32.6±7.3 years, 5 women) underwent a CMR for assessment of LV function, myocardial T1, late gadolinium enhancement (LGE), extracellular volume fraction (ECV), and intracellular water-lifetime (τic), a marker of cardiomyocyte size. As compared to controls, FRDA patients had a preserved LVEF (LVEF: 70.5±7.4% vs. 63.9±9.0%, P<0.058), larger LV mass index (LVMASSi: 61±21.7 vs. 45±4.2g/m2, P<0.02), and decreased LV end-diastolic volume index (LVEDVi 53.1±12.0 vs. 75.7±16.1ml/m2, P<0.001), compared with controls. Additionally, ECV and cardiomyocyte size (τic,) were larger in FRDA patients (ECV: 0.36 ±0.05 vs. 0.25±0.02, P<0.001; τic: 0.15±0.08 vs. 0.06±0.03 s, P = 0.02). ECV and τic were positively associated with LV mass-to-volume ratio (ECV: r = 0.57, P = 0.003; τic: r = 0.39; P = 0.05). LVMASSi and cardiomyocyte mass-index [(1-ECV)·LVMASSi] declined with age at the CMR exam, independent of the age at initial diagnosis. LV hypertrophy and concentric LV remodeling in FRDA are associated at the tissue level with an expansion of the ECV and an increase in cardiomyocyte size. The adverse tissue remodeling assessed by ECV and τic is associated with more severe cardiomyopathy classification, suggesting a role for these markers in tracking disease progression.

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